Through the keyhole in Challock
PUBLISHED: 09:46 01 November 2014 | UPDATED: 09:46 01 November 2014
Manu Palomeque 07977074797
The chairman of Viist Kent shows how to downsize with grace and style
The tireless chairman of Visit Kent (straight from an investor’s meeting on the day we met) has moved out of her ‘big house’ in Challock, daughter Millie and family have moved in and Amanda Cottrell is now 200 yards away in a cottage she has watched being brought back to glorious life over the past year. The only ones not happy about the move are the grandchildren, who love to say goodnight to granny and will now have to scamper across to see her in their PJs.
Kent Life’s visit was the incentive to get furniture and vital accessories and personal treasures in and while not everything was quite installed – including Amanda’s beloved book collection and family photos – it was all looking pretty gorgeous.
As indeed is its owner, and the eternally youthful Queen of Kent has never forgotten the advice of her American mother, a renowned Virginian beauty.
“She told me you must make your move while you have the energy to create a new home for yourself, and not just an old people’s house, a proper home, with a garden – which is key for me.”
Amanda has even thought far into the future: there is a separate garage and one side is her office but also a bed-sitting room so if she ever needed to, then the garage half could be turned into a sitting room and the whole would become a completely self-contained unit for a carer.
“It will all be finished by the time I’m 74 as the garden will take another year at least. And I’m surrounded by all my children – Millie in my old house, my eldest son Ed is in Great Chart, my youngest daughter Charlie has also bought a house in Great Chart and my second son Philip has a house in Chilham. I see them all nearly every day. I have nine grandchildren and the tenth, Charlie’s, is arriving in a few weeks’ time. The neighbours are definitely to be recommended.”
I am introduced to the builders, who have become firm friends over the past 12 months and Amanda cannot sing the praises of Peter Light & Sons enough.
“I’ve known the family for a very long time and Peter, my head contractor, is an English Heritage-approved builder and from day one he’s been brilliant. He’s just ploughed on through every disaster the year has brought us – including floods.”
Under the house there is no foundation, just earth, so the team had to pump in hundreds of tons of concrete in case last winter’s flooding becomes a pattern for the future. It took three weeks out of the build time, but fortunately Peter’s swift action meant that there was no damage.
And this is a house worth preserving, as Amanda found out. “We thought it was a Victorian gardener’s house and then we started the work and realised we had something rather special and that we needed to call in English Heritage.
“It turns out to be an early 14th-century hall house – I thought they said whore house to begin with and got very excited – and all these medieval beams and the fireplace were completely hidden. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve uncovered old beams and we’ve kept them exposed.”
It was Amanda’s suggestion to knock out the centres of the oak screen dividing what is now the lounge and kitchen (“English Heritage had a fit at first”), as she knew they were modern. They were replaced 50 years ago when she and her late husband Michael moved in while the ‘big house,’ then empty for two years and in a bit of a state, was being made ready for them. Both houses have a 14th-century core.
“It’s been such a success because you can see through them and it just makes the whole lounge and kitchen area open up. It was very closed up before.
“The castellated effect of the beams is very rare – it’s Listed Grade II* on the basis of the old oak screen that would have divided the solar, where they ate, with the sleeping area, the owner on a platform floor and his villeins slept under him in pecking order, just under the cows. Plus ça change.”
The whole place is much bigger than it seems from the outside, especially now that it’s been opened up and a special process (see ‘Get the look’) was used to bring the black pitch-coated beams back to their original colour.
“There was a horrid little Victorian stone fireplace in the lounge but Peter took it out and rebuilt it over a weekend. It’s even got little candle holders in the side walls,” says Amanda, who has an excellent eye and has done all the interior design herself.
I am not surprised to hear from Millie, who joins us for tea and Mum’s legendary home-made ginger cake in the kitchen, that her talented mother studied at School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Being Amanda, she then went on to draw for Walt Disney in California; later she was to do fine calligraphy work for the Royal College of Arms. She is an excellent watercolourist and as the bathroom rug shows, pretty good at needlework too.
Another very Amanda touch is that the build has been as green as possible. The whole house is insulated with her own Purbeck sheep’s wool and she has had a ground-source heat pump installed (“the village was convinced I was fracking when we sunk the bore holes”).
Her new Klargester drainage system means that all the waste goes into an underground tank where it is treated with microcosms, then it then soaks away as a harmless liquid. It never has to be emptied and it saves £200 to £300 a year on bills.
“The whole thing is even better than I’d imagined, and I’d imagined it would be pretty good because Peter is a specialist in these old buildings and he is just amazing.
“It’s very minimalist, I’ve downsized massively – the children have taken a lot of pieces – but it works because now I don’t want to be cluttered up. I just love the shape and feel of it all.” n